Trust across the regions of the UK in the EU is now lower than in any other member state bar the Czech Republic, detailed analysis of new figures has revealed.
The Eurobarometer survey found that trust in Brussels is below the European average in 11 out of 12 of the regions of the UK, with only London – barely – surpassing the average.
The authoritative findings – the first time the Eurobarometer survey has polled public opinion on the subject since 2012 – comes ahead of the British referendum on exiting the EU, due to be held before the end of 2017.
Both the rival ‘leave’ and ‘stay’ campaigns have launched in Britain, with Prime Minister David Cameron due to submit his formal, written, list of demands for a renegotiation of the UK’s membership next month, ahead of a summit in December.
The Eurobarometer poll finds that the average trust in the EU across the 12 UK regions was just 33%, lower than in every other EU member state bar the Czech Republic.
Even that average was only helped by the outlier of London, where trust in the EU was 43% – one percent higher than the EU average.
Curiously, trust in the EU in Scotland was at 37% – the third highest after London, but hardly the resounding vote of faith in Brussels that political commentators have speculated would prompt a second Scottish independence referendum if Britain left the EU.
The poll, of some 62,511 citizens across the 209 regions and 28 member states of the EU, was carried out through September, and fills some 162 pages. The full report was unveiled last week at a conference organised by the Committee of the Regions, for government and EU communications specialists.
It posed the question: “Could you please tell me if you tend to trust it [the EU] or tend not to trust it [the EU]?”
The detailed breakdown found the following numbers as ‘trusting’ the EU:
- North East: 33%
- North West: 31%
- Yorkshire & Humberside: 27%
- East Midlands: 30%
- West Midlands: 25%
- East of England: 37%
- London: 43%
- South East: 28%
- South West: 35%
- Wales: 31%
- Scotland: 37%
- Northern Ireland: 40%
In other potential pointers for the rival ‘leave’ and ‘stay’ campaigns, the study found that in the 11 regions outside London, respondents trusted their local and regional politicians, rather than national MPs, to explain the EU to them.
Londoners opted for the local MEP.
Immigration is the issue that has grown the most since the 2012 survey, whilst all regions except the North East were relatively positive about their economic situation.
Anxiety about unemployment was highest in Scotland, Wales and northern England, but in every region the public was less anxious about unemployment than in 2012.
UKIP MEP Julia Reid told EurActiv.com “It’s very reasonable that seeing the increasing EU budget, the assault on national democracy in Greece, during a mass migration crisis and post a Euro shambles, the British people are going to say a big ‘No thanks’ to the European Union. As the migration crisis begins to bite, and the Commission proposes to introduce visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens, I can only imagine that distrust of EU institutions will continue to grow in Eastern Europe as well.”
But Peter Wilding, director of the British Influence, said the figures showed Cameron need to make the ongoing renegotiations a strong case for a positive UK role in Brussels.
He told EurActiv.com: “”Little wonder that trust in the EU is low. 30 years without any leader making a strong case for the UK’s continued membership means that the country has followed the media into a downward spiral of negative euroscepticism.
“To save its membership, the PM must make a strong case for a positive, leading role for Britain in a Europe that is changing. If he cannot convince the public that the patriotic vote is the vote to remain in the EU, then trust will not improve enough to win.”
Scottish National Party member of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Stewart Maxwell, admitted: “It’s clear to see that there’s a problem with lack of trust in the EU, across not just the UK but the whole of Europe. Trust in political institutions is a cornerstone of democracy; and currently the EU is falling short – that is why the SNP believe that we need to engage with the EU to ensure more democratic transparency and accountability.
“We also will be working to ensure the benefits of the EU are made clear to everyone in Scotland ahead of the UK in/out referendum, which could see Scotland ripped out of the EU despite consistent opinion polls showing support for EU membership higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK.”
Britain’s governing Conservative Party won an absolute majority in the UK general election on 7 May 2015. With 12 more MPs than the other parties combined, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on a coalition partner.
Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.
But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
- November: David Cameron to announce his views on EU reform.
- 17-18 December: EU summit dedicated to possible reforms to accommodate the UK ahead of the referendum.
- 2016: Likely year for British EU referendum.
- 2017: Self-imposed end of year deadline for British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold his in/out referendum.